Thursday, October 24, 2013

DnD Next: Thoughts on When Demons Intrude by James Wyatt

Yesterday I discussed the most recent Legends and Lore column, Monsters and Stories by Mike Mearls (you can read that article at DnD Next: Ruminations on Monsters and Stories). Today I’m following that up by discussing the interconnected article, When Demons Intrude by James Wyatt.
 “. . . Today, I want to talk about a story element that has cropped up a couple of times in our discussions. Basically, we want to make it very clear in the story of the D&D worlds that when demons enter the world, it's a Bad Thing—and when demon princes enter the world, they leave a stain that will never be removed . . .” (When Demons Intrude)
It’s really interesting to note the change in tone from the previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons and the newest version of the game. In older editions demons happened. They attacked your party, corrupted good non-player characters, and plotted the downfall of your group; but there was no long term effect to the demon’s incursion into the world – unless they never left.

Lots of examples exist in the established game worlds where demon incursions meant that one side had gained an incredibly powerful ally, but their presence wasn’t a blight on the land. In Greyhawk, for example, Iuz the Old not only summoned demons to fight for his side in the Greyhawk wars, but he is a Cambion (half-demon) and has been a long term character in the game world without the sort of world corrupting effect that is going to be happening in the new system.

Which begs the question, is Wizards going to create a mechanic to undo the corrupting effects of a demon’s incursion into the Prime Material Plane?
“. . . A variety of summoning spells throughout the game's history has allowed spellcasters to bring creatures from the elemental and Outer Planes to the Material Plane. That's a part of D&D history we want to keep, for sure, and we're not particularly excited about having people summon celestial badgers or fiendish piranhas. We think calling a creature from the Outer Planes, particularly, should be a pretty big deal, and it should get you a recognizable celestial or fiend—something you can find in the Monster Manual without adding a template . . .” (When Demons Intrude)
That’s an interesting change and it certainly seems to make the use of the Summoning spells far more powerful than in previous versions of the game. The implications of making the spell that much more powerful are tantalizing.

I wonder if this will make using Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa easier? That would definitely make the game weirder and far more dangerous . . . I’m for it.
“. . . But summoning a vrock or a bone devil is not easy. Well, bringing a devil to you isn't necessarily hard, but getting it to do what you want it to do is trickier—you need to give it something as well. And summoning a demon requires a messy blood sacrifice, so you're not going to do it unless you're really evil. It's easier to bring something like a modron or slaad, a yugoloth, or a gehreleth (demodand), and there are fewer strings attached.
So you know that when an evil cult is working to bring a demon prince into the world, there's going to be a lot of slaughter even before the demon shows up. And the results aren't going to be pleasant . . .” (When Demons Intrude)
So far I’m really liking the implications that this line of thinking has for the game. Your evil cults are going to be a lot darker and more deadly and that can only make your players that much more heroic as they actively seek to thwart those vile bastards.

Again, I’m for it.
“. . . Ages ago, in some Prime Material world that is long gone and all but forgotten, a group of mad cultists succeeded in opening a gate to the 422nd layer of the Abyss and brought forth Yeenoghu. With a single sweep of his multiheaded flail, the demon prince annihilated the cultists, now useless to him, and he set out on a rampage of destruction and slaughter.

Nothing could stand against his terrible might. Packs of wild hyenas trailed in his wake, keeping a safe distance but feasting on the carrion he left behind. The more they ate, the stronger and bolder they grew, and Yeenoghu soon had a wild horde of demonic hyenas hunting at his side.

At last, somehow, his wild rampage was stopped. Some legends say that it was Yondalla, of all people, who stood up to him, countering his desolation with her abundance and his slaughter with her bounteous life. Whoever it was, Yeenoghu was defeated and sent back to the Abyss with his tail between his legs, and his pack of demonic hyenas went with him.

The last of the hyenas, though—those that had not yet grown large and strong enough to fight at their master's side—feasted on the gore left behind in the great battle between Yeenoghu and his opponent. These hyenas were transformed, gaining a shard of the demon prince's cunning and savagery and changing into his physical image.

They became gnolls.

Although they were originally contained to that one Prime Material world, they spread like a plague and infected nearly every known world of the D&D multiverse.

And let that be a lesson: When a demon prince enters the world, no world is untouched by its corruption . . .” (When Demons Intrude)
Not so sure that I like this narrative for the creation of Gnolls but it’s as good as any other I suppose. I think that I would like it better if there was less ambiguity and more certainty in the story. A deity performing such a heroic act should be remembered and not forgotten.

The ambiguity speaks too much for the limited impact of our actions and too much for the actions of evil.
“. . . Long ago, a cult of Orcus almost succeeded in bringing Orcus into the land of Vaasa, in the Forgotten Realms setting. (This saga is told in a strange series of adventures: H1, Bloodstone Pass; H2, Mines of Bloodstone; H3, Bloodstone Wars; and H4, Throne of Bloodstone, all published in 1985–88. Strange because H1 featured large-scale combat using the Battlesystem rules, and H4 was ostensibly for characters level 18–100.) The spirit of Orcus possessed a duergar and ravaged an entire city of svirfneblin before it was destroyed. But Orcus remained a threat, with a gate to his home in the Abyss remaining and his cultists working to bring him bodily into the world. 

They did not succeed, but Vaasa was never the same. Though its Witch-King was defeated and the hordes of humanoids, undead, and demons that served him were routed, the demonic influence of Orcus is still felt to this day. The ruined Castle Perilous, once the home of the Witch-King, has recently sloughed off its façade of ancient, crumbling stone and re-emerged as a sleek and dark edifice, shimmering with black runes.

It is even possible that the dreaded Warlock Knights of Vaasa, ostensibly powered by a metal they call ironfell, harvested from the regenerating body of a fallen primordial, are not entirely free from Orcus's lingering influence. Perhaps Orcus's power drew Telos to Vaasa, or it could be his will, not that of some inert primordial, that exerts itself through the strange ironfell. . .” (When Demons Intrude)
Now this is a far better narrative to use in a Dungeons and Dragons game then the previous one suggested. All the best elements are there and it’s got me flipping through those modules wondering if maybe I should start running them on my birthday.

A much better ending then where we started but a lot of questions are left unanswered. I’ll have to ruminate on them over the course of the remainder of the week to see if I fully like the implications of this article.

What do you think?

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